Leadership Inaction

What losing control of a project has taught me about leadership

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What seems like a very long time ago now I had a research plan. It seemed like quite a good plan at the time. It began with me reaching out to members of the St Andrews Faculty and concluded neatly in six weeks with a series of round tables and interviews on the topic of dynasty that would hopefully incorporate individuals from Asia and Europe, providing a mix of content that could (fingers crossed) interest anyone from an undergraduate taking their first steps into political or intellectual history. 

As is probably clear by the title of this piece, that did not happen. Whilst I have managed to pull together six (seven as of tomorrow) academic interviews which were a blast to prepare and conduct, things have not been easy. After a promising first week my project juddered into a maelstrom of issues including personal commitments held by interviewees and myself, family bereavement of an individual working closely with me, internet problems in my house and even a day of flooding, which threatened my ability to make it to a call. Furthermore, what videos I do have, I currently cannot publish because of certain data protection restrictions which were unforeseen at the outset of the project.  I was also completely at a loss for how to write up my work into anything of academic quality.

However, the careening of my project off it's pre-defined rails and into a thick soup of confusion, self doubt and frustration provided the perfect blend for me to practice the leadership element that is so integral to this programme. Particularly the concepts of self leadership and resilience, which I believe are perhaps the most important things I have gained from this programme thus far. I stuck to what was left of my plan, re-wrote what was no longer feasible and even added a few new things and then repeated that process ad nauseam. 

Pushing through setbacks and personal doubts has allowed me to finally start working on academic output from my project and I currently have one piece submitted and under consideration to the CSTPV blog. I also have a series of further interviews lined up across the summer with academics and political figures from Singapore, Malaysia, India and hopefully even more. Once I can get around my administrative issues I will be updating this blog with information regarding them. Am I over all the chaos that has dogged my project from its second week? No. But am I now comfortable in the knowledge that whatever comes my way next I will work around it and continue to meet new and exciting people, who I have much to learn from. I hope to soon try my hand, writing about new and exciting ideas.

So, what has this experience taught me about leadership so far? If I had to distill two lessons from it, the first would be that: a good leader must work around not only their own setbacks, but also the setbacks of others in order to succeed in any meaningful way; the second would be: don't let self doubt about the value of your work or it's possibilities of success drag you into apathy and inaction. 

Link to the Global Dynasties Blog is Below I hope to have the first six interviews up soon!




Student , University of St. Andrews


Thank you so much for sharing your story to date James and congratulations for showing enormous resilience in what sounds like a deluge of difficulties. I am glad that despite (because of?) all the hurdles it has been such a good learning experience and I can't wait to read the blog.